The following is a reply written to an L.D.S. Institute of Religion teacher who gave me a paper on parallels between Galatians and Romans from a Mormon perspective. The five points in bold are from the Mormon point of view.
1. Inadequacy of Jewish Law (Gal. 2:16; Rom. 3:28)
The argument is a common one, not only put forth by the L.D.S. Church, but by many who misinterpret the meaning of “the law” in the Bible. It is said that Paul did not mean morality (as in love and good works) but the Jewish law of ceremonies (as in circumcision, etc.). Especially in the epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians is the meaning of the law of paramount importance because the apostle everywhere says we are not justified by it. This is enormously important, and therefore how we interpret “the law” will interpret all things. We must not be careless.
I assert that the reason men interpret “the law” to mean merely the Jewish ceremonial ordinances is because of their natural reason that cannot believe that God could or would justify immoral people. It seems the height of absurdity! It goes against everything we know by experience and intuition. In short, it is foolishness, and does violence to our understanding of righteousness. Therefore men claim the Bible must mean the ceremonial ordinances when speaking of the law (I say “therefore”, because this reasoning, not the Scriptures, is the basis).
If we look at the Scriptures objectively without any presumptions about what we think it should say, we will easily discover that the meaning of the law includes, and is primarily, moral. This is shown clearly in the attached article “Evidence that “the Law” Includes the Moral Law”. The law must be seen for what it is otherwise the gospel will not be seen for what it is. The gospel is not that Christ came to bring a higher law than Moses, a set of “gospel laws” that we must obey in order to be righteous before God because we will be judged by our works. The gospel is that Christ sets us free by His death from all the demands of law (all moral and ceremonial necessity whatsoever), so that righteousness is credited to us by grace instead of by works (any works), and therefore we will not come into condemnation (Acts 13:39, 15:10-11; Gal. 3:10-13; Rom. 3:19-28, 4:1-8, 10:3-10; John 5:24, etc).
It is true that “the law” Paul refers to in Romans and Galatians is the same law that came by Moses at Sinai, but misunderstandings abound about what that law is. The law given through Moses was primarily moral in nature. For even consider how the ceremonial aspect of the law was given, in point of fact, because of the moral nature of the law. The ceremonies were given to “cover” their moral failings – their iniquity, or, anomia: law-breaking – illustrating the true work of Jesus Christ who was to come and bring about the only true atonement for sin (moral). Therefore the law is quintessentially moral, as seen from all of its aspects.
But consider this indomitable proof that the law of Moses is primarily moral: the law of God given through Moses contains two incredible commands which Jesus said were the summation of all the commandments of God: 1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. These two commands are found in the law, in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. These are not original to Jesus, but to Moses. (When we say “Moses' law” we mean the law God gave through Moses, so it is really GOD'S law, not Moses'; and because it is God's, it is perfect.) The thing to see is this: you cannot add or improve upon these two commands. It's impossible. You cannot have a “higher” law than these. The New Testament teaches that these are the summation of every possible command: “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; AND IF THERE BE ANY OTHER COMMANDMENT, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Romans 13:9, see also Galatians 5:14; James 2:8-11). And also Jesus’ words confirm: “The GREATEST of ALL the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is NONE OTHER commandment GREATER than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
Does the L.D.S. Church suggest that there are any commandments greater, or “higher” than these? Thus Jesus did not come to bring a higher law above and beyond the law of Moses, but all of Christ's moral teachings were an exposition, or explanation, of the law itself. He taught the people what God’s law truly involved so that the people would understand 1) what God’s standard for works-righteousness really was, and 2) thereby realize that they could not be justified by it (Rom. 3:19-20).
And therefore, when the Bible speaks of the law, it speaks of one law, the only law there is – and when it says we are not justified by the law (the law of Moses if you will, it matters not), that includes, and is primarily, the moral law: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself” and everything that hangs on these. We are not, and cannot be, justified by the law, for “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10), and by simple meditation it is evident that this is referring to the reality that no man lives the moral law (Ecclesiastes 7:20). These two great commandments were given by God through Moses and there is no other possible command that does not hang on these. If the Bible says we are not justified by the law of Moses, it is saying we are not justified by such morality. We are justified by grace through faith in Christ’s finished work (Rom. 3:19-28).
The whole point is that we are not justified by what we do, lest we should glory in ourselves, but by what Christ did, so that He receives all the glory. The law was given to show us our sin and our need for grace. The good news is that we are saved by grace, not of works. This gospel is utter foolishness to the natural man, but when it is revealed to a person by the Holy Spirit it is the most amazing, glorious, God-magnifying and pride-abasing truth that this world has ever known (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). In it alone we find life.
“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace...” (Romans 11:6)
One final thing: it is noteworthy that Paul in the book of Romans is undoubtedly speaking of the law as moral, whereas in Galatians this may be a little less clear (though He is still indeed speaking of the law as moral). Though, by happenstance, the point of contention at Galatia regarded circumcision, as certain men were saying that one must be circumcised to be saved, Paul no less had the moral law in view. In fact, it was because Paul had the moral law in view that the seemingly innocent requirement of circumcision drew out from him such a vehement reaction. The crux of his argument in Galatians is found in chapter 5:2-4: “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” Just like Romans 2:25, James 2:10-11 and Galatians 3:10, the required keeping of one law necessitates the required keeping of the whole law. Therefore, requiring that one be circumcised puts one under the bondage of keeping the whole (moral) law. Only this explains the unusual vehemence of Paul.
Therefore, instead of interpreting the law in Romans by the issue of circumcision in Galatians, we need to interpret the issue of circumcision in Galatians by the law in Romans. Doing this brings all difficulty to an end.
2. Accepting Christ Through Faith and Baptism (Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 5:1, 6:4)
These two verses, Galatians 3:27 and Romans 6:4, say the same thing: that we are baptized into Christ (union with Him in His death and resurrection). The mistaken assumption is that this refers to water baptism, which it does not say.
In the ancient world the word baptism never automatically referred to water baptism like it tends to today. It had a wide variety of usages. Strictly defined, it means to dip, to immerse, or to be overwhelmed in, and it was commonly used to refer to dipping cloth in dye. Jesus used the word baptism to refer to Himself being immersed in His passion: “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). This is clearly not referring to water. John spoke of Jesus baptizing believers in the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11). Again, this is clearly not water. So we cannot immediately assume a reference to baptism is referring to water baptism whenever mentioned in Scripture. Thus, here in Romans and Galatians, more inquiry is needed. Water is not mentioned, nor is such an inference necessary. The word here plainly refers to the believer being united with Christ by faith, or brought into Christ through faith (see the Greek on John 3:16 for example). Paul is speaking of that spiritual baptism into the body of Christ, not water.
“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13)
It is clearly taught in both Romans and Galatians that we are justified by faith apart from any work or ritual (for if one work is required, all work is required). Faith is not a work, nor is it like work, because faith is a rest (non-work), a resting, or trusting, in the work of another: Jesus Christ. Any interpretation is therefore false that interferes with this clear teaching. When an interpretation seems unclear and seems that it could go two ways, we can know the correct way to go by the clear teachings of Scripture elsewhere.
Therefore these verses are aptly interpreted to mean this spiritual baptism into Christ that takes place when a person trusts in Christ. Water baptism is a visible proclamation of this (just as the bread and wine proclaims the death of Christ but is not the death of Christ – 1 Cor. 11:26). For a more exhaustive treatment I recommend the book Christic and Patristic Baptism by Dr. James W. Dale.
3. Morality Required After Baptism (Gal. 5:16; Rom. 6:12)
Nowhere is it taught that morality is required for salvation – just the opposite! These verses are no exception. The Bible continually exhorts Christians to love and good works, but never are these exhortations requirements for salvation.
In Romans, Galatians and elsewhere, a new life of good works is seen as an awesome privilege that a Christian has been given. In Ephesians 2:8-10, the same apostle writes: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: NOT OF WORKS, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus UNTO good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” It is unmistakably clear that we are saved without any works, but it is also stated that we are saved unto good works. There is a crucial difference that must be noticed, for the Scriptures will not contradict themselves. All exhortations to love and good works in Scripture, including Galatians 5 and Romans 6, 12, etc. are spoken to Christians about how to live as Christians now that they are justified (Rom. 5:1, 8), not to men trying to become justified or needing to stay justified.
“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit!” (Galatians 5:25) Or, “You are alive unto God… now live like it!” This is the same message in Romans 6 (see Rom. 6:17-19, 7:4, 6).
4. Salvation Lost Through Evil Deeds (Gal. 5:19-21; Rom. 1:29-32, 2:5-6)
In the same way, neither do these Scriptures teach we lose our salvation if we sin. Romans 1:29-32 and 2:5-6 belong at the beginning of Paul’s step-by-step explanation of the gospel, in the section on why the gospel is needed. Paul is not preaching the gospel at this point, but he is preaching the law. He is explaining how God’s wrath is against all unrighteousness and how all sin will be judged and punished by God. He paints the grim picture that on judgment day not a Jew nor Gentile will escape His wrath unless they are found to be righteous (Rom. 2:5-16, notice especially verse 13). Later Paul lets us know that there is “none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10) and that there is “none that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:12). Therefore the need of the gospel is established: there is none righteous for no one keeps the law – God’s wrath is coming against the unrighteous – righteousness is found, not in the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ and His work of redemption on the cross (Rom. 3:20-22).
In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul likewise is saying that God’s wrath is against all those who commit such things against His law (the idea is the same in Rom. 1:29-32). They will not enter the kingdom of God. But we have learned elsewhere that all those who simply put their faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work are indeed forgiven of all their sins and therefore will enter the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Colossians 1:13-14). Entrance into the kingdom requires righteousness, and righteousness is given freely as a gift to all those who believe in Christ. God does not impute sin against believers, though they indeed sin, and this is, without question, the most radical and astonishing truth ever to be revealed in Scripture.
“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that JUSTIFIETH THE UNGODLY, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord WILL NOT IMPUTE SIN.” (Romans 4:4-8)
Since sin is not imputed to Christians, therefore they are not categorized with those in the list who commit such things. Paul is reminding them of the reality of the wrath of God against lawbreakers, against those outside of the faith, to encourage the redeemed to put off those old sins which would have denied them entrance into the kingdom, and that now they may be ashamed of them. This gospel which justifies sinners is a radical mystery. Sin, seen in Christians by the eyes of men, is not seen in Christians by the eyes of God. It is because of the propitiation (Rom. 3:24-26; 2 Cor. 5:19, 21), and it takes spiritual eyes to understand it (1 Corinthians 2:6-16).
5. Laws are Requirements for Salvation (Gal. 5:24-6:5, 7-9; Rom. 12-13)
I don’t need to say anything more on this point, since I’ve already addressed it in the previous points. The apostle encourages the saints, “in view of God’s mercy” (Rom. 12:1, ie. “How ought we to live in response to this?”) to offer their bodies in service to God (just as in Rom. 6:13). This is not to be saved or justified, but because they already are. In fact, it is the knowledge of one’s completed salvation that is the motivation for all of our service.